This debate has been on my mind for the past couple years, with two sons, currently 8 and 5.5. So I’ll spend some time here writing (a book) about me, my kids, our experiences, what worked for us, and what I’m doing differently with my younger son. I think it’s hard to give general advice on this topic, and much depends on the individual parents and kids. Also, my experience is with exactly 2 kids (mine), so take that into account. (And yes, I have a tendency to overthink things.)
Summary of my kids’ experience on the snow. (I keep a spreadsheet of all this stuff for budgeting purposes, so it was easy to look up.)
Older son (OS):
At 4-1/2 — skis, 17 days on snow, 9 days in full-day group lessons , 1 private lesson
At 5-1/2 — skis, 9 days on snow, 2 private lessons
At 6-1/2 — board, 12 days on snow, 3 days in full-day group lessons, 4 private lessons
At 7-1/2 — board, 16 days on snow, no lessons
Younger son (YS):
At 4 (turning 5 that January, so essentially 5) — skis, 9 days on snow, 2 private lessons
Both will be on boards this year.
So, me. I’m 44 and this will be my 12th year snowboarding. I consider myself a solid intermediate. I live in Michigan, but have spent a good bit of time riding in Vermont and New York (plus a couple trips west).
Years ago I read just about everything I could find on the debate and discussed it at length on another forum. I was really sold on the idea of starting very young kids on skis instead of board, despite being pretty much exclusively a rider myself. (I have only been on alpine skis a dozen or so times, but I am a decent cross-country skier.)
(1) It was important to me for my kid to have fun and like being on snow. I know there’s a vocal contingent that says the kid will have the most fun if they’re on the equipment they want to be on, so that should be the deciding factor. Frankly, my OS at 4-1/2 had no clue about skiing vs. snowboarding, only that daddy rides and mommy and grandpa ski. So I made my decision based on which equipment I thought the kid would have the most success on right off the bat, and skis won out in that regard. (I’ll admit a bias on my part in that I sometimes equate “fun” with “actually doing something right.”) (And also, admittedly a bit selfishly, that I didn't want to spend the rest of my existence on the bunny slope.)
(2) OS’s first year I knew in advance I would be going to Vermont for two one-week vacations. So part of it was taking OS along for daddy-son vacations, but, frankly, also parking him in all-day lessons so I could go ride. At that time, the resort I go to (Sugarbush) didn’t have all-day group lessons for kids that age, so that was a factor too. (They’ve since changed and do offer group all-days for 4-6 year-olds on snowboard.)
(3) I may come off like an asshole for this (if I didn’t already for fessing up about parking my kid), but here goes. I can’t stand to see people incompetently flail around at some activity, or at least not have some basic level of competence. I knew I would not have the patience to see a (my?) 4-year-old flail around on the board. You know the videos of super-young kids on boards you’ll sometimes see. Um, your kid might be having the greatest time of their life, but, sorry, no, they’re not actually riding if they can’t stop, turn, or get up on their own. I definitely have Asshole Technique Dad tendencies, and have been accused of “over coaching” my kids while on the snow. But I have mellowed considerably on that front in these past couple years, and my YS does stand to benefit from that.
Anyhow, so I started OS on skis at 4-1/2 and did go a bit overboard with the ski lessons. (See above about parking him.) I did talk a lot with his teachers and picked up a lot of pointers on how to coach a kid on skis (when my own ski skills are pretty lacking). None of us are particularly athletic. But OS has good balance and made great progress in those two years on skis. His switch to board was very interesting. He struggled at first, despite all the lessons, then on about day 6 he had a breakthrough, and it’s been near constant improvement since. (When I learned to ride, I struggled for 3 days and day 4 was my breakthrough day.) By the end of his first season, he was getting decent. By the end of his second, wow, I really had some proud papa moments. He’s comfortable in easy moguls and glades. He’s been given props twice now by strangers on the lift.
In retrospect, I think one year on skis would’ve been enough for him. That is the one thing I would’ve done differently in all of this, and it’s what I will do differently with YS. OS’s second year on skis was great that he could go so many places with me and ski with such confidence. And I’ll admit it was tough for me his first year on the board to see him struggle for those first days. But I think he still would’ve had a similar breakthrough if I had started him a year earlier. (Maybe it would’ve been later — on day 10 or so instead of 6.)
Now, with this in mind, I’m switching my YS to board this year after one year on skis. True, YS has far fewer days under his belt and far fewer ski lessons than OS had had before switching, but I was stunned with how easily YS took to skiing his first year. YS has a challenging, explosive personality and gets frustrated easily. That was one of the reasons we waited until he was almost 5 to put him on snow. But his progression and confidence on skis just shocked the hell out of me. To me, it seems like keeping him on skis another year would just be a waste.
I will definitely front-load him with lessons, like I did with OS. What I’ll have to be sensitive to is how long it may take for him to have a breakthrough.
(Aside: if you’re wondering why I didn’t just switch OS from skis to board in the middle of his second season, it was mainly due to what equipment I had. Also, I had told both kids that in general I don’t care if they ski or ride, but they have to decide one or the other before the season starts.) (But I'm also a complete hypocrite in that regard, in that I really hope they stick with snowboarding.)
So, executive summary. I personally think there’s value in starting very young kids off on skis. I’ll have more to say at the end of this season about switching kids over to boarding.
I’m happy to answer anything about my experience.
Sooner or later your legs give way, you hit the ground.
Last edited by MikeIn248; 10-05-2014 at 10:45 PM.